How Reconciliation Becomes Possible

Watching on TV the very moving memorial service in Dallas for the five police officers slain by a gunman on July 7, 2016, I felt unbelievably saddened by the loss of life – not only for these courageous men and their families, but for every loss brought about by misunderstanding, prejudice and hatred. I yearned more than ever to help bind up the divisions within our society that are at the root of such tragic events.

On the day after the shooting, people in Dallas came together for a prayer service in Thanks-Giving Square. We were all invited to join our fellow citizens in prayer for healing wherever we live. Thanks-Giving Square is a garden, chapel and museum in the heart of Dallas. During my own visit to this beautiful place years ago I was awakened to express more gratitude, and I am reminded today by the courageous voices heard in Dallas how mutual understanding, respect and reconciliation gather momentum through grateful acknowledgment and appreciation. I find that genuine thankfulness serves to silence inclinations that would alienate me from others, and enables me to recognize and fan each flicker of goodness wherever seen and felt until it becomes an irresistible force for progress.

Going forward I am inspired further, by a recent post, to draw on the well-spring of gratitude as we work toward healing for ourselves, our communities and our nation. I hope you, too, may find encouragement and support in reading “A Powerful Prayer for Dallas and the Nation.”

“Haven’t you forgotten something?”

It had been a rough few days. I’d sent my stepbrother, Grant, an email with the sad news that my dear dog Jubi had passed away. He replied, “Jubi was a constant source of entertainment and joy and affection for so many…. It was a great give and take of love and caring….” I smiled, then dissolved into more tears.

cc-jubi-girls-shoestore

Making new friends.

Jubi, the white fluff ball, had been my close companion. She charmed scores of strangers I would’ve never otherwise met – timid children who brightened at the sight of Jubi, and irresistably reached out to run their fingers along her down-soft back; steely adults who involuntarily stopped in their tracks to bend down and caress her. “She’s like dandelion fuzz,” a stern-faced man said, cracking a smile.

I cried until the well was empty. Restless, and uncertain how to soothe the sorrow, I ricocheted from one task to another. Tried to read, started to organize my desk, contemplated a walk. Nothing stuck.

Then, I remembered!

Three years ago. Crack of dawn. As I tossed back the bed covers, a wave of anxiety washed over me. The writing deadline. Co-workers expecting a product. Days old to-do lists.

Where to start? Get dressed. No, boot up my computer. No, eat something. No, it’s cold, get dressed.

Didn’t notice Jubi until I tripped over her, planted on her haunches in the middle of my room. “What does she want?” I wondered, motioning her to jump up on the bed. She didn’t budge. “Hey, what is it?” I asked impatiently, skirting around her. She didn’t move a muscle, her eyes laser focused on me … just like on our walks, when I lost touch with her and she seemed to say, “Are we still connected?” It was a look that’s hard to resist.

I halted, cinched up my bathrobe and met Jubi’s gaze. A connection! She was saying something to me … like, “What are you doing! Haven’t you forgotten something?”

Oh! I get it! Entangled in the underbrush of the day’s demands I’d darted here and there, desperate to find a way out. Now, captivated by Jubi’s questioning look, I realized we hadn’t started the day as we always did, with moments of quiet prayer, preparing for the day’s activities.

So I scooped her up in my arms, slowly settled into my worn green leather chair, and welcomed stillness. A feeling of gratitude welled up in me for the abundance of qualities readily accessible to each of us – intelligence, creativity, compassion, and more. I’ve come to see these spiritual qualities as flowing from a loving and ever present divine source, and naturally expressed by each of us through our oneness with divinity. Meditating on these ideas, I began to trust that I’d be guided that very day.

It wasn’t long before I glimpsed a first step to take on the writing project, even felt inspired. I slid Jubi off my lap, dressed, ate, and sat down expectant and peaceful at my computer. Maybe Jubi sensed the shift, too, because she curled up nearby.

Now three years later, through tears, I felt once again the sweet urging Jubi awakened in me that morning: in the midst of uncertainty, pain and loss, stop and be still. I remembered her questioning eyes, “Haven’t you forgotten something?”

I slid into the same worn green leather chair and became quiet within. Gratitude for Jubi’s lasting gifts rose in my heart. The way forward would open up. I settled in to listen.

Confrontation and Disconnection? Not really.

Whenever I watch a display of fireworks on July 4th, I get a lump in my throat. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with other people gathered to watch dazzling pyrotechnics shoot breathtaking designs of light and color into the night sky, I sense the equality and freedom which our country aspires to realize for all its citizens, and which, for me, have a spiritual basis.

On a Monday at noon not long ago, I’m standing at the intersection of Harrison and 12th Street. Signs are printed in both English and Chinese. Oakland’s Chinatown, a hive of commerce and community, is a short walk from the Alameda County Courthouse, where I’ve been summoned for jury duty. I’m mulling over one of the foundation stones for the equality and freedom we enjoy—a system of justice based on the rule of law, a system developed to honor and protect the dignity and worth of every individual.

Until the morning’s jury selection process, I was actually looking forward to serving. Lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant questioned each of us in the jury pool exhaustively about our backgrounds, occupations, and viewpoints. So contentious was the tone, however—adversaries setting up individuals against each other!—that I wondered how a jury could remain impartial. Trial by a jury of peers and the back and forth of prosecution and defense are essential to our system of jurisprudence, but the level of hostility expressed by these lawyers left me feeling agitated and distressed.

Then I was selected to be one of the twelve jurors!

Thankfully it was lunchtime so I could escape the adversarial environment of the courtroom. I headed to Chinatown, figuring it would offer a welcome distraction and I could relax.

Chinatown is a world teeming with activity! En masse, people crisscross the intersection in six directions at once. Along the crowded sidewalk, women wheel shopping carts, pause at open-air markets to pick over fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, bargain vigorously with shop owners in their native language. Men sit at tables, over tea animatedly discussing…what?

A group of giggling girls gathers in front of a bakery. I join them, approach the counter and ask if they sell almond cookies. The clerk, who has only spoken Cantonese to her customers, eyes me, an anomaly, and points to a plastic bag.

With each step into this tight-knit community, differences of language and culture become more apparent…and disconcerting. The contention and agitation of the morning has not dissipated. In fact, hostility overshadows my perspective!

Jostled by a sea of people on the sidewalk, I step aside to let the shoppers pass. Seems to me I have a choice: dwell on the sense of opposition and disconnection and feel more anxious, or focus on a deeper spiritual dimension to gain some peace—the inherent relationship and connectedness of all humankind.

A verse from Scriptures comes to mind, “Don’t we all come from one Father? Aren’t we all created by the same God?” And a phrase that I’m familiar with echoes this sentiment: “With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren.” It’s from Mary Baker Eddy’s book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

While not everyone who holds others in respect may have a religious or spiritual basis for doing so, for me, such respect grows out of a sense of our inherent unity. I stand still on the sidewalk, opening my heart to the Father-Mother, who I understand to be universal Love. I pray to feel the presence of this divine source and essence, which tenderly binds all of us together.

And then something catches my eye: a rosy-cheeked infant swaddled in a flowered cotton wrap and strapped to the back of an elderly Chinese woman. The baby’s head falls from side to side and bobs backward, her young neck not strong enough to hold her head upright.

I glance with concern at her petite caretaker—her grandmother, I assume. The woman struggles to adjust the child, twisting, visibly frustrated, in an attempt to reach the baby’s head. At that moment, our eyes meet. She beckons with a pleading glance. I move toward her. She waits. My hand—instinctively, without hesitation—reaches into the folds of the colorful cotton wrap. I feel a swath of crumpled cloth, slide it upward and tuck it around the baby’s head. Aah…a perfect fit. The child, firmly cradled against the woman’s back, now rests safely and coos happily.

Grandma’s eyes meet mine again, and we break into smiles. She, relieved that her tiny charge is comfortable and safe, me because in that instant I feel a connection, a realization that we are joined in a tender moment of support and friendship. Words are not important—a mutual concern for the child’s well being is all that matters. Shared caring is what connects us.

I head back to the courtroom with a warm heart and renewed confidence in the inherent connection of humanity. With this quality of relationship with each other, nurtured by divine Love, confrontation doesn’t have to have the upper hand! Rather than being swept up in hostility, I vow to bring an attitude of respect to the trial. The jury assembles and the judge instructs us to be seated. He thanks us for our willingness to serve. “However,” he says, “the parties have settled, and you will not be needed.”

Interesting…was each party willing to give and take until they found common ground for reconciliation? Connection, not confrontation. It’s what I experienced in Chinatown, it could be what emerged in the courtroom, and it’s what I’ll think about more as I watch the fireworks this Independence Day.

 

Mom’s Presence

Last week, as my dog, Jubi, and I were walking past a pre-school a few blocks from our home, a woman was standing nearby holding an infant in her arms. Our eyes met. We hesitated, paused, and looked at each other as if to say, “Do I know you?”

Then in a flash of recognition, we smiled, recalling the touching moment that first brought us together. The woman had been pregnant with the baby she was now carrying, and had been walking near my house with her other daughter, then about three years old.

It was 11 months ago – June 2013. I’d been sitting alone in the bedroom where my mother had passed away peacefully after a brief illness two weeks earlier. Tears were streaming down my face.

The night before, it had rained – an unusual summer occurrence in Northern California – and the sun had just broken through the clouds, drawing my attention outward. In hopes of comfort, I called to Jubi, “Come, let’s go for a little walk.”

We stepped outside. There was a cry … then a wail. What was the sound? Where was it coming from? We turned the corner. A mother and child were walking in our direction. The little girl was desperately reaching up and grasping at her mother to no avail. We drew nearer. The woman was pregnant, unable to pick up her crying child, who then tried to climb on top of her mom’s shoes. I smiled, remembering how I loved to balance on my dad’s shoes, my feet rising up and down with his, as he walked.

Common_snail

Sensing a need, I asked if we could help. “She’s afraid of the snails!” Mom said, with a twinkle in her eyes. Sure enough! Snails were crisscrossing the moist sidewalk from one grassy plot to another, leaving trails of ooze in their wake.

Mom said her family lived five blocks away, and she wanted to call her husband to pick them up, but had left her cell phone at home. “Here, use mine!” I offered. She dialed. Dad was at work, and couldn’t leave.

“My car is right here, how about if I drive you both home!” But that was out of the question, since I had no child seat. ‘Jubi!’ I thought, a full-proof solution. Our gentle white fluff ball had quieted many upset children through the years – surely she’d provide a tantalizing distraction.

“Would you like to pet Jubi?” I asked the child. “NO!” was the resounding response, followed by an inconsolable howl.

With no answer in sight after all, I instinctively knelt down beside her. Then an inner whisper, “Be still … and listen.” As is often the urge in moments of distress, I mentally reached out to the Divine with childlike trust. A feeling of compassion welled up, and a knowing that no matter what, we were all loved and cared for.

“Would you like to climb on my shoulders and go for a ride?” I heard myself say. The child hesitated, then reached for my outstretched hands. I hoisted her up. High above the sidewalk she settled in, and off we strode with Jubi in tow.

Mom and I chatted and laughed as we ducked under low-hanging branches sparkling with raindrops. The family was from Turkey, and Mom was earning her PhD at the nearby university. She was looking forward to the arrival of her own mother who was flying in from Turkey the next day to help with the delivery of their second child.

Four blocks into our trek, my shoulders began to sag. But confident that we were in good hands, I said, “Would you like to climb down and take Jubi’s leash?” With a jerk of her knees that signaled “yes,” she slid off, and led Jubi toward her home. When we arrived, Mom and I hugged. I wished her well.

Fast forward to last week, when we bumped into each other again. I congratulated her on her infant, and realized her older child was attending the pre-school – the girl I’d carried on my shoulders. As we recalled the day of our adventure, with a grin she said, “My daughter’s not afraid of snails anymore!”

I laughed, and breathed a silent thank you. I was glad for the child. And I was moved – this time to joyful tears – as I recalled that heartfelt experience, which at the time brought with it something surprising … and healing. A feeling that my mother’s love was still with me.

The qualities of my mom that I treasure, especially her generosity – her sensitivity toward other people’s needs, and her freely giving of herself – had been the very qualities that enveloped me that day. By the time Jubi and I had reached home, my shoulders were back to normal, the sun was shining brightly, and for the first time since Mom’s passing, I’d felt hope. I knew that as I lived the qualities that I and so many other people cherish in my mom, I would always feel the presence of her love.

 

 

More Than a Doctor’s Bag

My dad’s black leather doctor’s bag went with him everywhere: to Children’s Hospital in Oakland about an hour away from home, to his office in nearby Pleasant Hill, and to his many house calls in the areas in between. When I was young, I thought that everything my dad needed as a cardiologist to help patients was in that bag, and that is why he was never without it.

But as I got older I realized that Dad’s ability to help someone feel better must have come from something more than what was in his bag because he rarely, if ever, dispensed anything from it for our family – two active kids and our mom.

Dad often took phone calls from patients at home. I remember one time, when I was a teenager and we were just about to leave the house for a special family outing, the phone rang and Dad disappeared into another room. We waited for him. Several hours later, he hung up the phone and came back into the living room and said something like: “They thought they needed a pill, but they didn’t. They needed to change the way they were thinking and living…to see themselves and their situation differently.”

There were other calls like this that led Dad to cancel our family plans so he could take the time to talk with a patient. Pretty disappointing for us kids. But as we grew up we learned Dad’s important lesson: the arms of our family’s love and cooperation could be extended to others, and that this care made a real difference in their lives.

Recently, I’ve been encountering a number of studies showing that the quality of a patient’s thought has a significant impact on the body, and consequently the time and attention doctors give to patients can positively affect health outcomes. Because the physical problem is often more than what appears on the surface, a truly effective response calls for more than a doctor’s bag of medicine, a prescription or procedure.

Often, doctors who take time to ask questions about what is going on in a patient’s life and really listen to hear what is of concern and weighing on the patient’s thought helps the doctor uncover what may be exacerbating a physical problem. Addressing the patient’s thought in a kind, caring way, the doctor can help patients connect with inherent resources within them that are mentally positive in nature and that bring forth hope, expectation, gratitude and other qualities which research now shows affect the health of the body. My dad experienced this first-hand many, many times.

Seems to me that Dad was practicing not only the science of medicine, but its healing art. His doctor’s bag was a necessary aid, but its presence also hinted at something larger than could be contained in it – his commitment to responding with compassion and courage as he attended to his patients’ deeper needs.

While researchers are continuing to probe the relationship of mind and body – including the relationship of consciousness and the brain and how the body responds to thought – my dad surely sensed that it was the hearts of his patients that needed nurturing for the body to improve.

A Walk of Tantalizing Scents and Wonderful Discoveries

In my last post, I talked about finding a “Deep River” moment – intentionally pausing and listening instead of pushing ahead and overextending myself. Some of you commented on the power of calm and the unconditional love and blessing such moments make possible. Thank you. Recently, I discovered a Deep River moment unintentionally and in an unexpected way, sparked by our dog, Jubi, while we were walking in a new neighborhood.

“Let’s go!” I said, hoping Jubi would pick up her pace. She and I had radically different ideas about what this walk was about. For me, short and brisk – a break from my organized schedule – even the walk was tightly scheduled. For Jubi, it was all about the smells, however long it took. Each blade of grass, every tree and bush deserved to be sniffed and studied – like a shopper trying out perfumes whose scents evoke imagination.

Around home, there are only so many directions we can go and only so many dogs to leave their different marks. It has got to be pretty predictable for her. Maybe that’s why, on this particular day, when I grabbed my car keys and started out the door to run an errand, Jubi jumped up to join me, hoping for new discoveries.

We drove to the cobbler shop where I picked up my re-soled Birkenstocks, Jubi trotting alongside and greeting the owner, a true craftsman. As we headed back toward the car, the sun shone brightly, and it occurred to me we both might enjoy a short walk in a new locale, a refreshing reprieve after a week of rain. With shoes still in hand, off we strode in an unknown direction.

2013-01-10_13-17-34_882Lured by promised treasures, within minutes Jubi’s nose was buried in wild clover spilling onto the sidewalk. Half an hour later, we finally reached the end of the block! I figured Jubi wasn’t going to pick up her speed, and I’d had enough of slowpoke. “OK, let’s go home!” I said, expecting to evoke the usual wagging tail. But instead of perking up, Jubi planted her paws firmly on the ground and looked into my eyes as if to plead, “Home? Why now? This is heaven! I don’t recognize one smell. They’re all new. I could spend the day here!”

Jubi’s communicative look often touches my heart. Today was no exception. In fact, her enjoyment made me laugh. She so appreciated what was being offered, that I felt a nudge to let go of my tightly scheduled agenda and let our walk take its natural course – instead of being preoccupied with getting to the future. Often it’s easy to mentally tick off the present task in order to be ready for what needs to be done next. But when something or someone I love – like Jubi – catches my attention and tugs at my heart, I wake up and shift naturally and happily into the present, the joy of now.

I was so touched by Jubi’s sincere pleasure that I began to feel open to what was being offered to me: the warm sun on my back, the fresh breeze hinting at early spring, and the garden patches that told of artistry and care.

Walking slowly in this ‘unscripted’ mental space offered a surprising gift:  the opportunity to ponder a personal concern that had been troubling me. I’d felt caught in the middle of a conflict between people I care about and had been trying to figure out how I could help bring resolution and ease the pain.

As Jubi and I wandered along, I realized I had the mental freedom to consider the situation more clearly without any distractions. I dug a little deeper into my own perceptions to see if they aligned with the love I value – divine Love – and to my surprise uncovered resentments I’d been harboring. No wonder I felt pained and in the middle of disagreement – I needed to elevate my thinking to be more reflective of unconditional and nonjudgmental love. With this clarity I felt the ill-will just melt away. My love and reasoning weren’t attached to one person or another anymore – I was squaring my thinking with divine Love.

I didn’t see a complete way forward, but I definitely felt freer and happier than I had been. And right then I realized I could be a healer in this situation, starting within my own consciousness. I no longer felt helpless but inspired, and hopeful that as I continued to listen, more answers would follow.

Jubi and I ambled on for another hour – her keenness for every still-to-be-discovered scent unwavering. For me, letting go of my agenda opened the way to connect with inner wisdom and a greater love. Willingness to let go of my schedule, push the ‘to-do’ list aside and focus on the moments at hand, opened me up to the ‘to-be’ channel of spiritual consciousness — to hear and recognize needed insights.

When we reached the car, I tossed in my shoes – a reminder of where we started and how far we’d come – and headed back across town toward home. I reached over and stroked Jubi’s chin. Her soft dark eyes looked up at me and then closed, as she sighed. I agree, this was a wonderful walk.

A Deep River Moment

In a particular period of my life, on more than one occasion, I was exhausted – running around, tripping over myself in an effort to be helpful. I’m conscientious and willing to work hard, but at the end of each day, I had a gnawing feeling that something was out of whack.

From my spiritual searching and practices over the years, I felt the path out of this bind involved gaining new insight, a perspective that would help me see beyond and break through this pattern. Then, I had an opportunity to join a group of women in Abby Seixas’ Deep River telecourse, based on her book, Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman’s Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life.

As Abby points out, the “Deep River” can have different meanings for people. It wasn’t a new concept for me. Since childhood, the Biblical “still small voice” has been real. Over the years, I’ve read and learned from a variety of other timeless spiritual writings and teachings. I feel especially at home with the ideas in Mary Baker Eddy’s work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, where this spiritual reformer explores the deep divinity within us and the practical effects on our daily lives of spiritually understanding our relationship to the Divine. For me, the Deep River was a symbol of the divine presence that is all around and within, embracing me – and everyone – in love and wisdom, uplifting and guiding.

During the course, the women spoke heart to heart about some of our struggles. One woman mentioned a tendency to overextend herself. Overextend! That word spoke to me, with an awakening force. Another woman talked about discovering a hidden motive to gain appreciation. Was I feeling unworthy and in need of validation?

We shared insights and experiences that encouraged us to take time to get quiet in order to find the Deep River within, to feel one with the divine presence. I decided right then to make every effort to pause – to be still and listen to the inner voice, the voice that tells me who I really am and what I have to offer – before charging ahead and overextending myself again. It hasn’t been easy, during the course or since then, but I am making progress!

Here’s one example.

A new friend who just moved to town from another country was hosting dinner for a few neighbors. I wanted to bring a gift and thought, “What about a box of See’s Candies?” See’s is a traditional California treat that would be really special.

Then I realized it would take me an hour and a half’s drive to make the round trip to the candy store, and that I had other commitments, including the promise to myself to live at a calmer pace in order to allow moments for thought to be open to the Divine. I felt an inner tug: push ahead as I’ve often done; or stop and listen as I was committing myself to do now. I decided to take a Deep River moment. I became quiet. I listened. I started to pray, something like this: “Let me feel the divine presence here, loving me and loving my friend. Let me feel and trust how much we are both cared for, nourished, supported by infinite Love.”

I stopped planning and just took in this love! My concerns began to dissipate: I wasn’t personally responsible to make my friend happy; and proving myself a good neighbor wasn’t the point at all. We were both truly worthy and loved. Like a swimmer in the ocean who is carried to shore by a powerful wave, I felt the power of love bringing me to a joyful solution for both my friend and me.

Soon, an idea came to mind. A bakery collective that’s unique to our town, and which I like to support, makes delicious cookies. The store is reflective of local color and only a few blocks’ walk from my home! A shop across from the bakery offers a selection of specialty ice cream flavors, too.

I called my friend to see if I could bring dessert, but she said she didn’t want to trouble me. When I told her about the bakery around the corner, she was delighted and said, “Yes!” After a delicious dinner, the cookies were snatched up eagerly, along with refills of ice cream.

What I loved about this experience was seeing that I didn’t have to rush around trying to be the perfect neighbor. It wasn’t about ME! In that Deep River moment – when I paused to feel my oneness with the loving presence of the Divine – it became clear that I wanted to share with my friend and our neighbors what THEY would enjoy. And the way opened to give generously that blessed ALL of us.

Unexpected Fathers

Few things break a girl’s heart more than losing her father.

Unconsolable sadness shown in the eyes of a young friend of mine a few days after her dad died.

I could relate. Several decades earlier, when I was a teenager, my dad passed away suddenly, and I felt lost. But somewhere in my grief, there was a flicker of hope, like a single candle in a dark, sad room.

During my childhood, both my mom and dad—though they were of different faiths—had read the Bible to me. I loved the stories that assured me of the presence and care of my Father-Mother God. I believed in this divine closeness, and that I couldn’t be separated from His/Her love. Now with my dad gone, I needed something to comfort me…and I felt I could look to this loving presence for assurance and strength.

As I stayed with my young friend, I hoped that what I later learned might help her. I trusted that she too would find the comfort she needed.

When my dad passed on, for support I turned to the Bible stories I knew. Soon I discovered that the fathering qualities I loved about my dad really have their source in the divine. And since these qualities are not limited to one human being, they can be expressed tangibly in my life by others. And that is exactly what happened!

First there was Winn, who was like an uncle to me. Winn would just appear! I’d wake up and find him at the breakfast table. Or he’d be outside fixing something that needed repair. With his jokes he lovingly teased me, but that made me trust his care and objectivity, especially when it came to helping me navigate choices and decisions around relationships with guys.

Then there was Walt, a Swiss friend of our family who grew up in the Alps. He stepped right in to help fill my dad’s shoes—ski boots, actually—accompanying us on day trips to the mountains and nudging my brother and me to glide gracefully and swiftly down the steep slopes of the Sierras.

A couple of years after dad died, mom remarried. My stepdad, Chet, had known my dad professionally and admired him. Our combined families—each parent brought two teenage children—discovered that we loved the outdoors. One of Chet’s favorite expressions, “The family that bikes together, stays together,” told me in a humorous way how much he cared for and was committed to our united family.

Each of these relationships, full of spiritual qualities of love, care, strength, stability, guidance, fun, and humor, were tangible expressions of the fatherhood that could never really be absent. I truly believe this is possible because they have their source in the ever-present Father-Mother God.

On this Father’s Day, I’m grateful to remember all the wonderful examples of fatherhood I had growing up. And my young friend? Through the continuing support of those who loved her, she gradually regained her joyful outlook and later married a wonderfully nurturing man.

 

Have you been fathered by someone other than your biological dad? Have you been the giver or the recipient of fathering love?

When Is a “Live Chat” a Cool Chat?

Oh no! Black streaks across the page from my new printer! Project due tomorrow morning! Don’t panic!

OK, go to the printer’s website. I see multiple choices: email, call, or help online—more panic! Email too slow…forget the call—I’m not good at deciphering outsourced accents…go for online chat.

I click, and before I have time for more anxiety, there is “support specialist,” Vindo.

After the usual greeting, Vindo begins asking questions as if I should instantly know exactly what’s he’s talking about. But I’m not a techie. What’s more, to answer any of his questions means dashing around my desk, avoiding the couch and table, to where the printer sits on packing boxes, and then back to my computer to type the info he needs so he can ask me more questions.

An hour and a half later, we’re still typing, and I feel like I’m running a marathon. However, my newfound knowledge of printer parts—ADF cover, pick rollers, separator pad—is impressive. A mite of confidence combines with a mountain of determination to get this job done. When Vindo instructs me to clean the input guide rollers beneath the pick rollers, I tackle the job like a champ. I’m on a mission.

But when Vindo says the rollers will take 15 minutes to dry, up comes the panic again! Fifteen minutes of online silence will last forever, and I do not want to lose this man. On the other hand, I’m exhausted and could definitely use a break.

Then, another feeling surfaces: I realize I’m communicating not with just a printer tech specialist, but here’s another human being, and I’d like to connect with him. I’d been watching the name Vindo scroll down the page, seeing that English may be his second language, and it dawns on me he could be from India. If so, this might be a way to chat beyond the technical.

Tentatively, I type: “By the way, are you by any chance in India? I was there once.”

Vindo: “Yes you are right. I am here in New Delhi, the capital city of India. Where did you visited?”

Me: “I was in Bombay (before the name changed to Mumbai), and then in a small village outside Hyderabad.”

Vindo: “I think you visited here some around 10 years or before back?”

Me: “Actually it was in 1992. Bombay was beautiful, colorful, cosmopolitan. In the village, people welcomed me—a foreigner. I loved India.”

Vindo: “Yes, Karyn, here the people have simple living in villages.”

Vivid images of India flood my memory: the gracious hospitality of a family who welcomed me with gifts, specially-prepared foods and a bedroom they had vacated for my comfort; the thrill of riding through villages on overcrowded buses vying for road space with bicyclists, pushcarts and sacred cows; the smiles on faces of women dressed in red, purple and gold saris, as I gestured with them about their fruits and vegetables in open air markets. I wonder about Vindo’s world.

Me: “Vindo, did you grow up in Delhi?”

Vindo: “No, I grow up in another small city, Allahabad, in Uttar Pradesh.

Me: “Wow, how do you like the big city?”

Vindo: “I really do not impress either the city big or small; If you have your loving people near to you then these things does not matter.”

Me: “Vindo, that’s such a good way to look at life!”

Fifteen minutes pass quickly. One more hour of cooperative efforts—Vindo sticking with me to the end—and the machine is good to go. I thank him for his patience, and we each type good-bye.

As I log off, Vindo’s words stay with me: “I really do not impress either the city big or small; If you have your loving people near to you then these things does not matter.”

A few months earlier, we moved from a spacious home to what a friend calls a “shoe box.” This downsizing cast a shadow over my spirits. Our large and gracious home had represented the center of the family for years—where we could all come together frequently. When my step dad passed on, we needed to move.

Our new space is small, but now I see it in a new light! The size of the space can’t confine what’s in my heart and how I can expand that. Vindo’s message reminds me that the dimensions of my house aren’t the real issue. It’s whether my life is full of love. And this can start with me—expanding my gratitude for having loving people close, and the care I feel for my family and the wonderful new neighbors we’re getting to know. THESE are the things that matter!

Two hours ago, I was panicked; an hour ago, I was exhausted. Now, I think, “This was a really cool chat!”

Have you encountered a “Vindo”? What was your Vindo-guide like? What makes a chat memorable for you?

What makes you happy? For me, finding light in a parking garage!

It’s another day after work…and I haven’t been able to shake the blues for several days. I take the elevator down to the gloomy, musty underground garage to pick up my car – no wonder this does absolutely nothing to lift my spirits. The parking manager stands stone-faced in the pay booth while an attendant goes to retrieve my car.

Even in my funk, I’m grateful for the guys who dart to and from cars, enduring a shortage of fresh air, windowless dirty cement and preoccupied customers. So I muster up a personable question. “How was your weekend?”

“OK,” he responds without expression or movement.

“Do anything special?” I ply a little further. “Not really,” he says, sliding outside the pay booth toward me. “Just slept, I was really tired.”

“I know those kinds of weekends,” I say, thinking how lethargic I’ve been, “when you just want to rest and do nothing.” He smiles.

I don’t know his name. He took over management of the garage a few months ago, and we’ve barely said “hello.” From somewhere within my darkness there must be a flicker of light – I feel an urge to keep the conversation going.

“So, what do you do…when you’re not here?” I ask.

“I race cars,” he says, straightening up and taking a deep breath. By now, we’re face to face, and I nod.

“I buy ‘em when they’re junk and fix ‘em up and race ‘em.” I don’t completely follow his car-talk about parts and mechanics, but as he picks up his pace, I hang in there with him. “My daddy was a racer. When I was six, he sat me down in the seat next to him, put a helmet on my head and strapped me in.” He jerks his head, “My head bobbed back and forth the whole way ‘round the track. Right then,” he says, “I knew this is what I wanted to do. I’ve been building cars and racing ever since. I pick up scrap cars, and in my workshop we strip ‘em down and rebuild ‘em.”

My car arrives – not a racer by any means. I begin to get in, then stop. My car can wait. This man has loved racing since he was a child – who does he share his passion with? I really want to know.

“Do you have kids? Do they race?” I ask.

“My older daughter – she’s 26 – no way! She won’t have anything to do with it.” He sounds disappointed but resigned. “But her daughter, she’s six. She wants to ride with me. I’ve got hopes for her!” I see a gleam of expectation in his eyes. One way or other, he’s going to pass along his passion, and it might be to his granddaughter.

As I drive up the garage ramp into daylight, even my spirits lift. That nudge – to get out of myself and pay attention to someone else – breaks the spell of personal gloominess. Being a car-devotee isn’t totally new to me. Another friend painstakingly rebuilds cars for racing, and I’ve seen first-hand the patience, persistence, and skill this requires. But to have a stranger open up and share his passion – well, that puts a smile on my face!

So even in dark times, the light within never goes out. A mere breath of gratitude, a slight caring feeling for someone else fans the spark. And what a benefit…a new experience of another person sharing the light within himself. This light that never goes out – I felt it again in an underground garage. And that makes me happy!